Right now there are two species of Milkweed blooming in our garden: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Butterflyweed (A. tuberosa). As you probably know, native Milkweed species are essential to the future of the Monarch Butterfly.

The Common Milkweed has grown into a nice little patch that is blooming well in the Sidewalk Border. Common Milkweed is an aggressive plant, but as of now I’m glad I planted it. Once established it spreads far and wide via roaming rhizomes. Stems that pop up where they are not wanted are yanked out or mowed down (as in the lawn). I also cut back before the flowers go to seed.

Those who introduce this plant to their gardens should know what they are getting into. Nevertheless I am pleased to see Common Milkweed included in a surprising number of gardens in our community, particularly in parkways aka “hell strips”.

I love the unique shape of Milkweed flowers, though the dusty pink color of this species does not excite me. The flowers of Common Milkweed also have a wonderful honey scent, which is the main reason I planted it where passersby could appreciate the fragrance.

New Butterflyweed in front of the landing.

As for Butterflyweed, I used to have a very nice patch in the Driveway Border, but it has been much diminished since we did some driveway construction. Butterflyweed has a taproot and spreads by making clumps, but it doesn’t run. It resents disturbance. And the Driveway patch is now being shaded by other plants, notably Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta).

Generally, though, Butterflyweed is a fairly easy plant. Mainly it wants sun and well-drained soil, though there is a variety adapted to clay soil sold by Prairie Nursery. And I love the vibrant orange color.

More recently, we planted a couple of new Butterfyweeds in the little bed in front of the front door landing. They seem to be doing ok, though that spot got a lot of snow piled on in late winter. That seemed to delay the emergence of the plants – they are late to break dormancy anyhow. Not sure they appreciated the extra moisture, either.

Our biggest patch of Butterflyweed is tucked out-of-the-way on the west side of the Crabapple bed. It looks healthy, but is blooming a bit sparsely.

Milkweed species are the only host plants for the Monarch Butterfly. I was pleased to catch a single Monarch here nectaring on the Common Milkweed. We don’t usually start seeing multiple Monarchs until later in the summer.

Here’s the same Monarch (I think) basking on some Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata).

The most recent Monarch population numbers are quite grim. However, it’s not too late. Planting native Milkweed species in our home gardens is one easy way most people can contribute. We also have Rose and Sullivant’s Milkweed (A. incarnata and A. sullivantii) in our garden but they are not blooming yet, so I’ll write about them later. Plus, there are a number of other garden-worthy species.

Do you grow Common Milkweed in your garden? Are you happy with it? Do you have a different favorite Milkweed species?

79 Comments on “A Tale Of Two Milkweeds”

  1. My Common Milkweed is tall and aggressive in the front yard, and now there are a few plants in the back. I was going to remove some of it but a Monarch visiting early in the season before it started to bloom made me reconsider. Years ago I was frustrated because milkweed I planted didn’t happen and now I have more than enough. I think the Common arrived by itself, actually. I also have some nice Red Milkweed in the backyard by the fence, just starting to bloom.

  2. I have a lot of Common, Purple, Swamp, and Whorled MW as well as a Butterfly Weed. The only way to protect the Monarchs is by providing habitat for the larva as well as the adults. Also plant late blooming nectar flowers to fuel their migration to Mexico in the fall.

  3. Regarding fragrance, Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) smells delightfully like vanilla cookies. It is does not need wet soil, but will be happy to grow in moist conditions and it is doing very well in my heavy clay soil.

  4. What a beautiful butterfly the Monarch is, and a lovely photo of it there feeding on the Milkweed. We don’t have that Butterfly weed here, to my knowledge, but I find it very attractive and agree with you re the colour: I’ll take vibrant orange over pale pink any day. So do you find people in your local area are generally quite enthusiastic about planting to help wildlife in their gardens?

  5. The common milkweed doesn’t grow down here. The first time I saw it was in Missouri, and the size of the plant (especially the leaves) just knocked me over. I’d have to say the aquatic, red-ring, and red milkweeds are my favorites, although there are more than thirty species native to Texas–lots to choose from! I was surprised to find there even are species that thrive in the dry, deserty parts of the state.

  6. We tried ‘one’ butterfly weed in a new landscape, and it did not last long. Bummer. It was something of a trial, before adding it to other landscapes. We will likely try it again. I believe that the death of the first specimen was because of excessive irrigation, so was not a good representation of the potential.

  7. As Betsey mentioned, swamp milkweed is a fragrant one. I planted some in my back garden near the fence and it is colonizing in the alley outside the fence. On humid summer evenings I can smell it all over the back yard. It’s heavenly! The butterfly weed is my fave, but it seems somewhat fickle. It moves around the yard in response to a call only it can hear, heh heh. Hopefully you’ll try some of the swamp milkweed – I think you’d love it and it’s color is such a pretty pink too. It would be a fine addition to your garden.

  8. Sadly common milkweed is listed as invasive in Georgia, as it is not native to our state and has taken habitat away from some of our more regionally delicate milkweed species. I adore the fragrance of common milkweed and I think the larger leaves are more attractive to monarchs. Butterfly milkweed grows well in my garden and I love the orange blooms.

  9. Yes, tuberosa or “monarch’s delight.” Have been reluctant on the common milkweed but will try it. As an aside, I have a friend who has a robust clump of tuberosa growing in dappled shade on a slope in the front of a rowhome… it thrives – not sure whether that is the drainage but surprised because of the shady conditions.

  10. My native milkweed is narrow-leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis. I wish I’d never planted it! So invasive. I am, literally, pulling it out daily. It pops more up overnight, in beds near where originally it was a nice tidy little clump, and in paths yards away. I cut off the seed pods, so these are the underground rhizomes. I never see monarchs, so it was ill-advised. Although, being given the seeds did cause me to build the Butterfly Garden in the first place. It gets loads of other pollinators. Butterfly Weed is so much prettier (up close the milkweed is spectacular, but it doesn’t put on quite the show of color). I don’t know how, but a few plants came up in my raspberry bed this year. I don’t know how, because that bed only got soil in April, delivered, not from my yard.

  11. In my suburban chicago backyard: the swamp milkweed and ice ballet milkweed were covered in aphids the last few summers. I try to hose them off, but they always come back. Nonetheless, I will keep the plants, they are very pretty.
    The asclepias tuberosa came back late this spring, and is doing very well in full sun. The butterflies love my butterfly bushes, blue fortune agastache, yarrow, magnus coneflowers, phlox and native asters. The bees love the nepeta, calamint agastache, monarda and asters as well. I also am seeing fewer big bumblebees, but lots of smaller native bees are around.

  12. I grow common milkweed, butterfly weed, and recently planted swamp milkweed. I had planted a whorled milkweed a few years ago but it got crowded out and didn’t make it. My father grew milkweed decades ago, and gave me my first plant. I’ve seen two monarchs so far this year, several weeks apart.
    I have spread milkweed seeds on my morning walks over the years, so hopefully I’ve added a few plants to my neighborhood.

  13. I have tried most varieties of milkweed (with the exception of common) that are available, but have only had success with butterflyweed that, as you note, once established is reliable and most attractive. Here, in Central Kentucky, our local city/county government has various departments, including parks and recreation, that are making an all-out effort to return large portions of public green space to native species (including milkweed) and leave them unmowed.

  14. Very healthy milkweed plants there! Common milkweed is the only species I haven’t had success with, believe it or not. I could make a place for it in the very sunniest spot in my garden, but I have other milkweeds there. I figure having plenty of five different species of milkweed should be sufficient. I’ve only seen a few monarchs here in my garden this season, and I’ve found zero eggs. (Usually, I’m overwhelmed by now.) Some of the local monarch folks (in a Facebook group) are saying it could be partially because of our early drought, since there are plenty of monarch eggs and caterpillars north of us, as posted on the group page. I agree with you that the scent of common milkweed is delicious.

  15. Hi Jason .. Funny enough I am going to post with milkweed included. I only have tuberosa. Sunny positions in my garden are very tight and crowded, but I had to have it there for Monarchs .. I am hoping they will gather on Pink Diamond hydrangea like they did 2 years ago .. it was a sight to be seen that I will never forget ! I have loads of different hydrangea all over the place for them if they choose to go that route. Otherwise … I have lots of different plants they like, but yes .. the regular orange tuberosa is a standard here !

  16. I adore common milkweed–to me, the dusky pink blossoms are beautiful and the fragrance is just amazing. It apparently adores me, too. As you wisely warned, once it gets a foothold–look out! I just saw our first monarch yesterday, so hoping we have good year for them.

  17. I do TRY to grow the Asclepias. I’ve had difficulty with the common form…no luck from seed, and no luck in finding it for sale in my area. I do have two small tuberosa…however they are being studied down here as a potential problem for the monarchs. IT keeps blooming in the South, long past when the monarchs should quit laying eggs and reproducing…they should continue their migration. Some have thought it disturbs the migration patterns. So the watchful gardeners who grow it, and know it, try to cut it back at the end of summer, to keep those butterflies on their way!

    • A friend just told me that the Common Milkweed is actually not native and invasive in Georgia, but there are some rather delicate native milkweeds. Although in Georgia you must have really diverse climate and flora in different parts of the state.

  18. I really enjoyed this informative post! I was in Iowa last Saturday and saw many lovely butterfly weed with their gorgeous orange blooms (and a couple of the blooming plants had monarch butterflies on them). I didn’t know what they were. I had figured out that they were a version of milkweed. In my garden, I have the common milkweed –it is in with my hydrangea –it blew in and I’ve left it. I think I better clip the heads before they seed.

  19. Hands up on common milkweed – we have it spotted here and there but I’ll pull any that are out of bounds. I have a couple of swamp milkweed plants that I grew from seed in the west border but those are much later to emerge – in fact, I’m fairly certain I had some rabbit grazing happening on one of them last year and was concerned that it was a goner, but thankfully, it’s back this year.

  20. I grew butterfly weed in my front yard for several years. One spring it never returned. I haven’t tried since; don’t really know why. We have a flood wall a few blocks from our house with a lot of milkweed growing on the slopes. Today I saw my first monarch feeding on one of them; that seems to be a bit early for us (Southern Tier of New York).

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